They’ve been appearing on our roads more often. You may even be considering updating the wheels you have for a newer electric set. There are plenty of pros too – insurance is cheaper than their petrol sisters, road tax is non-existent for fully electric cars, and an MOT will cost you roughly the same as a petrol or diesel powered car. But there’s that niggling question – what is an electric car like to drive?
You might be expecting a slower start at the lights, or maybe some fancy footwork when braking to help energy get sent back to the battery. As for speed, surely they can’t compete with a traditional petrol engine? Can they? It turns out, you’ll get instant torque, regenerative braking takes care of itself and in terms of speed, if the Formula E is anything to go by, that shouldn’t be a problem for you either.
How do electric cars work?
Most people consider the Nissan Leaf to be the first ‘real’ electric car on UK roads. It started appearing all the way back in 2010, but electric cars were being played with waaay before then. Tomas Parker combined Gaston Plane’s rechargeable lead-acid battery with Anyos Jedlik’s electric motor around the turn of the century. Not this century either, that was back in 1884.
But as you know, it wasn’t a hit. Combustion engines somehow captured humanity’s attention instead and it’s only now, nearly 150 years later, that we’re seeing them return to our roads. Albeit, a little more snazzy than in the horseless-carriage days. Today, electric cars use an induction motor, invented by Nikolas Tesla.
An electric car has fewer moving parts than a car with a combustion engine. This is because the battery powers the motion, making all those fluids, belts and firing pistons redundant. Unlike a car running with a combustion engine, an electric motor only needs two parts, the stator and the rotor.
These few parts are powered by lithium-ion batteries that create an electric current and send power to the rotor and stator. The outcome is an induction motor that’s simple and low maintenance. While this is great news for owning and maintaining an electric car, drivability and range are the two details holding many back. So let’s jump in and explore each.
What are electric cars like to drive?
In a few short words, very nice! The EV experience is smooth, easy and fun. Simply jump in, press the start button, select drive (or reverse if you need to back out of the parking space!), and away you go!
Unlike your usual automatic, you won’t feel the engine move through gears as you increase speed. That’s because no gears are needed for an electric motor. It simply spins fast or slow in one or the other directions. It is possible to get electric cars with gears, or a two-speed ratio. Tesla’s Roadster is one and Porsche used one in their Taycan. Chances are you won’t see many of them in your average EV as there’s just no reason for gears.
Because all the energy you need to drive is waiting for you in the battery, all you need to do is press down on the accelerator and it’s ready to respond. Slowing down is where an electric car gets really clever.
By lifting your foot from the accelerator or pushing on the brakes, kinetic energy from the wheels is fed back to top up the battery. No effort is required on your part. You don’t even need to press the brake to have that neat trick work. The regenerative system works so well that some people only need to use brakes to park. However, it does mean you need to keep your foot steady on the accelerator to keep up momentum.
How to drive an electric car
Far from slow or dull, an electric car driving experience is entertaining and an utter pleasure. For outright acceleration, you’ll be able to leap ahead when the lights change, if that’s your thing. When coasting along, you’ll also notice a good level of pick up. The placement of EV batteries – on the floor between the axles – makes for a sporty feel when driving and handling feels responsive, steady and fun.
To get the most from an EV in terms of battery range, aiming for a smoother ride is what it’s all about. Working with the accelerator rather than the brake will reduce your demand on the battery. Planning ahead a little more will help you to know when to lift your foot a little from the accelerator and recoup some of that energy you’re using to drive.
Smoother driving is more fun and safer too. Many EVs come with a smartphone app that gamifies the whole driving experience a little. Granted, you won’t be collecting stars as you cruise down the motorway, but you will be getting instant feedback on your skills and there’s no better way to improve and enjoy when you have a steady flow of tips for driving an electric car.
It’s also worth checking out the manual that comes with your particular electric vehicle – it’ll share a few key insights to running and driving it. The infotainment system often has useful tutorials that will explain exactly how to get the most from your battery and extend the range. Tips like preparing the temperature in the car while it’s still plugged in to conserve the battery for the miles you plan to cover are helpful. They’re not what you’d immediately think of if you’ve moved to an electric car from traditional petrol or diesel vehicles.
In many ways, driving an electric car isn’t too different from a conventional set of wheels. Thanks to the regenerative braking system and low centre of gravity, it’s unlikely that it will get away from you. Some people even prefer an electric car to traditional gas-guzzlers. The only thing to do now is to try test driving an electric car for yourself! We bet you’ll enjoy it.